State Senator says Oklahoma Tourism Department has way to fix problem

Thursday, June 27th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A new law gives tourism officials a way to fix sewage problems that are blamed for the scheduled reduction of services at popular state parks in eastern Oklahoma, a senator said Thursday.

Sen. Dave Herbert, D-Midwest City, referred to a law signed May 30 by Gov. Frank Keating that gives the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission authority to issue revenue bonds for capital needs.

Herbert, chairman of the Senate Tourism Committee, said if the department cannot finance the bonds, then the Legislature can appropriate additional money to the agency early next year.

``The first bills on any bond issue won't come due for several months so we will have ample time to approve an appropriation when we return in February. The Senate leadership has assured me that it is supportive of that approach,'' Herbert said.

The agency plans to reduce park services on July 10 to comply with an order from the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. The DEQ order cites leaking or inadequate sewer lagoons at Sequoyah State Park, Tenkiller State Park and Lake Texoma State Park.

Under the order, lodge and cabins would be closed at Western Hills Guest Ranch located within Sequoyah State Park near Wagoner. Services would be reduced at the park's campgrounds. The park would still be open for day-use, but all permanent restroom facilities would be closed. Chemical toilets would be placed at Sequoyah's campgrounds, golf course, boat ramps and marina for public use.

The environmental order would force the closure of the swimming pool at Tenkiller State Park. Campgrounds at Tenkiller State Park and Lake Texoma State Park also would have reduced services.

Ron Stahl, spokesman, said the tourism agency is ``aggressively pursuing every avenue'' to address the problems.

Stahl said officials are aware of the law but would prefer a direct appropriation. ``We put this out there to the Legislature last session and the session before. They know the facts. We would really like them to deal with it that way.''

Like other agencies, tourism saw its budget slashed to meet a revenue failure this fiscal year and to address a $350 million shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Given the state's financial problems, Herbert said a bond issue may be the only feasible way to fix the sewage problems and return services to normal.

``The faster we move on this, the better for everyone, especially the people who rely on our sate parks for recreation or the spin-off business activity that they generate,'' the senator said.